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Dialogue of Diversity: Religious Colleges and Moderation Efforts


  December 30th 2021

In the context of the strengthening of religious radicalism in Indonesia, serious efforts are needed in religious literacy to lead a moderate religious life.[1] Due to this issue of religious radicalism also occurring in the context of universities, students also need to get attention, especially students who study at religiously affiliated universities which generally have a homogeneous student body. This issue has attracted the attention of Dr. Francis Borgias, M.A., alumnus of the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) batch 2010, who now works as a lecturer at the Faculty of Philosophy, Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung. In the second edition of the diversity dialogue forum organized by ICRS alumni on December 4, 2021, Borgias, discussed this issue in his presentation entitled 'Being Religious Interreligiously: Some Points of Personal Reflection'.

In his presentation, Borgias begins with two main questions: is it true that religious colleges, where students are of the same religion, create exclusivism and intolerance and how can religious college students experience encounters with people of different faiths so that they can appreciate diversity? To answer these questions, Borgias argues that the first step to overcome the problem of exclusivism is to live a vertical relationship with God, and continue to develop spirituality, surrender, and devotion to God. At the same time, humans also need to develop horizontal relationships with other creatures, both humans and the universe. In this relationship, it is necessary to realize that every human being has an ethical obligation to other human beings, namely, to love, respect and care for others as part of love and devotion to God. In the end, being or becoming religious must appear real in a horizontal relationship. Borgias also argues that the role of reading and interpreting scriptures that foster love is very important in interreligious relations, because the Bible is about love. In this case, Borgias quotes Karen Armstrong: “Everything that Moses had written was for the sake of love so quarreling about the scriptures is wicked.”[2]

Nevertheless, the next question is who is my neighbor? The answer to this question is important to be able to build a good horizontal relationship. According to Borgias, that fellow is anyone who needs help; those who are weak, powerless, marginalized and excluded; those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, sick, naked, and lonely, though they are different from us. Next, we should ask what should be done for the neighbor? Borgias argues that with such fellows, we cannot remain silent, indifferent, and apathetic. But we have to do something, because what determines it is not logical, ideological (right-wrong) criteria; not a cult criterion (praying/ritual); not socio-political-economic criteria; not legal criteria (legally correct). For fellow human beings who suffer, what needs to be applied is ethical criteria, namely good deeds that build, empower, and bring changes in fate and quality to people. Not carrying new burdens or problems, having to overcome problems without problems. Finally, Borgias explained that to build religious moderation and make students religiously interreligious, even though they study at religiously affiliated universities and socialize in a religiously homogeneous environment, these students need to develop the ability to "pass over", an inner and spiritual pilgrimage to enrich the mind, soul and spirituality. This passing over is followed by coming back, as a new person who is renewed, enlightened, metanoia, a change  of mindset and perception with new horizons.

Furthermore, the second speaker in this forum is Dr. Ayi Yunus Rusyana, an alumnus of ICRS batch 2010, who currently works as a lecturer at UIN Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung. Rusyana delivered a presentation entitled 'Religious Moderation for Millennial Generation'. In his presentation, Rusyana explained that after the reformation in Indonesia, there was a struggle or contestation of religious discourse among Muslims that went beyond the traditionalist-modernist category. This was influenced by the socio-political role of Islam in the public sphere, and has implications for religious understanding (fiqh, aqidah, siyasah and muamalah). Not only within Islam, but the contestation of the discourse also affects the occurrence of Muslim-Christian conflicts, acts of violence in the name of religion, the desire of several Muslim groups to return to the Jakarta Charter and make sharia regulations, encouraged the emergence of new Islamic movements such as HTI, Salafism, and even raised a "hot" and controversial fatwa from the MUI in 2005. Rusyana also explained that in the current context, according to a survey by the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) in 2020, 85% of the millennial generation are vulnerable to being exposed to radical ideas. Aligned with that, the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) in a 2021 study stated that the age of 17-24 years is the main target in recruiting and spreading the ideology of terrorism. Rusyana also explained that according to a survey by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (Pusat Pengkajian Islam dan Masyarakat/PPIM) UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta, the majority of students or 69.83 percent had a relatively high attitude of religious tolerance. While the other 30.16 percent have a low tolerance attitude. The PPIM study at UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta involved 2,866 students at 91 universities in 34 provinces from November 1 to December 27, 2020.

Moreover, according to Rusyana, it is also interesting to see that religious moderation has been included in the character education program in the 2020-2024 National Medium-Term Development Plan (RPJMN). President Joko Widodo also stated that religious moderation is in line with Pancasila values. In 2019, the Minister of Religion launched the book Religious Moderation which can be used as a reference for anyone who will study or spread the values ​​of religious moderation. Rusyana argues that to create order and peace in Indonesia, national affirmations of religious moderation for the millennial generation need to be prioritized considering that narratives of hatred, intolerance, and hostility have spread massively in cyberspace as well as in the real world. The government, through various ministries and other stakeholders, can plan strategic steps, starting from consolidating and strengthening programs, even mainstreaming diverse moderation, and implementing them according to the context and content of the millennial generation. Islamic universities such as IAIN and UIN also need to have houses or centers of religious moderation to disseminate the values ​​of religious moderation both for students and for lecturers and education staff. Finally, Rusyana sees that in this moderation effort it is necessary to apply 12 basic values ​​of peace. This includes the proper view of yourself consists of: accepting yourself and removing prejudice. Both are proper views of the others, regarding ethnic differences, religious differences, gender, social status and gangsters and cliques. Also, it is necessary to build relationships and work towards conflict resolution by celebrating diversity, handling conflicts, avoiding violence, admitting mistakes and forgiving.

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[1]      Dicky Sofjan, “Learning about Religions: An Indonesian Religious Literacy Program as a Multifaith Site for Mutual Learning,” Religions 11, no. 9 (2020): 433. p. 1]          

[2]       Karen Armstrong, Muhammad Prophet for Our Time (Mizan Pustaka, 2013). p. 154